Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Varner-Perez interviews Harris and Usset on recent publication


Shelley Varner-Perez, Transforming Chaplaincy Fellow

I had opportunity to interview Irene Harris and Tim Usset about their recent publication on Building Spiritual Strength, a psychospiritual group intervention for Veterans. J. Irene Harris, Ph.D., LP, is a Psychologist at Minneapolis VA Health Care System and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at University of Minnesota Medical School. Timothy J. Usset, MDiv, BCC, LMFT, is a Research Chaplain at the Center for Veterans Research and Education at Minneapolis VA, a Masters of Public Health Student at University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and a Transforming Chaplaincy Fellow. Irene arrived at this research question after a conversation with two psychologists at the Minneapolis VA who noted spiritual perspectives as “a strength for recovery from PTSD for some clients and a hindrance for others.” A review of available research literature, she said, “yielded almost no help.” Irene proposed bench research on relationships between spirituality and trauma, and the study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation (Harris et al., 2008). To address clinical application from the initial study, a Building Spiritual Strength manual was created. Insights from the first clinical trial led to revision of the manual for the current study.



J. Irene Harris, PhD. (Photo by Minneapolis VA)

Tim shared insights about the direction spiritually integrated care for PTSD might take. He acknowledged that widely available current interventions “are not spiritually integrated”; Those that are spiritually integrated “are not widely available.” He hopes as spiritually integrated interventions become evidence-based there will be greater adoption of them in VA and other health systems. He suggested that “wider adoption will provide people that have experienced trauma more treatment options and fill a…gap in current treatment practices.”


As for advice for other teams interested in conducting research studies, Tim suggested gaining education, partnering with appropriately trained professionals, getting the organization on board with conducting clinical research, and learning the priorities of the funding sources. Finally, finding ways to partner with professionals across disciplines will allow spiritually integrated care to be implemented more broadly.


Tim Usset, Transforming Chaplaincy Fellow

As for his own interest in research, Tim notes that “Dr. Harris sparked my interest in research…[and] Transforming Chaplaincy has helped me to get formal training in statistics and epidemiology.”

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